The not-so-funny April Fool's joke

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After spending a relaxing weekend in the garage, I came back to the Old Cars Weekly office to have my blood boil. In my e-mail's inbox were several notes from collectors who were rightfully up in arms over a story that supposedly appeared in the New York Times over an extremist senator who intended to make collectors pay additional taxes for owning collector cars.

As we looked over the document, it just didn't look "right." "Boroughs" was misspelled. The format of the article didn't appear in the typical NYT fashion, nor did it read like an Associated Press story. There was also that goofy accompanying article on the colonic benefits of polka dancing.

We poked around the Associated Press wire in search of the original story to no avail. That's because the story wasn't from the Associated Press, the New York Times or any respected mainstream media source, but rather an April Fool's Day hoax by someone in a car club.

Based on the reaction I received from readers, I can only imagine the feedback sent to the senator, who was innocent in this case. My biggest fear from this April Fool's Day joke is that the hobby has lost some respectability with a lawmaker, who has also been planted seeds of an idea that could negatively affect the hobby. Since the story appeared in the Shelby American Automobile Club of America's publication, the story may also negatively impact that respected organization.

Regardless of the outcome, it makes me glad we no longer run "April Fool's Day" issues of Old Cars Weekly. And that's no joke, nor is the fact that hobby organizations, such as SEMA, have been running "damage control" since the story began circulation throughout the hobby. To read the apology of the original author, see the statement circulated by SEMA below the image of the original "April Fool's Day" article.

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The Shelby American Automobile Club’s annual April Fool’s gag reached a much wider audience that anyone could have predicted. Initially a four-page newsletter was emailed to every member. It contained stories about a perpetual motion ’68 Shelby, a ’69 GT350 that supposedly got 40 miles per gallon and a bogus front page recreation of the New York Times, dated March 28th, that had two stories. One was a hoax about purported tax legislation being prepared by Sen. Charles Schumer, which would tax every collector car, antique, hot rod and race car in the country. This was, of course, concocted out of thin air. But it was, on the surface, believable and it hit numerous hot buttons of car owners.

As soon as some SAAC members read this they immediately went into full “Paul Revere mode,” posting the article on a wide variety of Internet car forums. Once on those forums, readers swarmed like angry killer bees, both posting angry comments about the unfairness of the concept and spreading parts and pieces of the original article in emails and postings. It was the classic definition of something “going viral.”

When readers on some forums recognized the whole thing as an April Fool’s joke and posted this, other readers seemed to look right past the warnings. We now know how Orson Wells must have felt after his 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast resulted in traffic jams as panicked people tried to flee New Jersey.

While we enjoy a good April Fool’s prank as much as anyone, we never envisioned that this one could spread so quickly or so widely beyond the Shelby American Automobile Club. We deeply regret if taking this story seriously has caused anyone any undue distress or embarrassment. To keep more of that from happening we would greatly appreciate it if you could forward this message to as many car enthusiasts as possible. If they forward it to others who can forward it to even more people, maybe this second message will catch up with and overpower the first one.

And finally, please do not contact Senator Schumer’s office. He already has his hands full with real issues of importance.

Best regards,

Rick Kopec
Shelby American Automobile Club

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